Sometimes photos could be misleading, said Steven Tan, president of SM Supermalls. Mere hours after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was modified, photos of people swarming SM malls went viral.
“The photos of crowds being shared on social media are not representative of the malls and our public who has been following safe distancing rules. One photo was taken on the first day ECQ was lifted in the corridor of our supermarket, and if you look at the photo from another angle, people are about a meter apart,” Tan told Lifestyle.
Just two days after ECQ was lifted, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla ordered all malls in his province to shut down temporarily when crowds were seen to be disregarding social distancing.
SM malls, Tan said, follow the directives of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and the Department of Trade and Industry. There are big signs reminding shoppers about social distancing, and SM has safety protocol officers to guide people to follow one-way arrows in corridors, and up and down escalators, two steps apart, he said.
“All tenants were given Safe Malling Tool Kits so that all follow suit. Employees undergo rapid testing before they can be deployed in the malls; face masks and shields, gloves are being issued to them. We over-deliver on the protocols required by the government on safe malling,” Tan said.
All SM malls are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before opening and throughout mall hours, especially in areas with heavy customer contact. Temperature checks are set up in every entrance, and disinfecting foot mats and alcohol dispensers are provided at the mall entrance and restrooms. The restrooms are sanitized every 30 minutes.
Shoppers are required to wear masks, and free Wi-Fi has been disabled to discourage loitering in the mall. Leisure establishments will remain closed.
Rockwell Land Corp. has also installed UV lights in its air-conditioning systems to improve the quality of air. Its elevators now have Stay Fresh Anti-Bacterial Diffuser, said Nio Gutierrez, retail operations manager of Power Plant Mall. The mall has been equipped with fans and blowers to bring in outside air to ensure proper circulation of fresh air inside the mall. (See related story on malls’ safety protocols page D1, May 20.)
“When the mall reopens, Rockwell’s housekeeping will step up their game—elevators, escalators, walls and other frequently touched surfaces will be disinfected every 15 minutes with US Environmental Protection Agency-certified disinfectants and sterilizers,” said Tracey Castillo, AVP for marketing of Rockwell.
Elevators at Power Plant Mall will allow only four passengers at a time, and two passengers at a time for The Grove Retail Row and Arton Strip for crowd control. There will also be a new restroom protocol: Only four customers at a time will be allowed inside. All cubicles, countertops and sinks will be disinfected after every use, Castillo said.
“Since the start of the ECQ, we have put in place policies for all our front-liners to minimize their exposure, including the mandatory wearing of PPE (personal protective equipment) and limiting their external movement. All staff and employees will submit to daily health checks and will be required to wear PPE,” Castillo said.
Disinfection of merchandise
Castillo added that another strict set of safety protocols for each store would be implemented, such as limiting the number of persons in-store, having disinfecting routines for merchandise, and prohibiting sampling of products, among others.“We have a disinfection chamber installed at the entrance of our mall. The chamber is capable of checking the temperature immediately and disinfects the mall goer before he or she goes inside the mall. We also have social distancing ambassadors deployed inside our malls,” said Graham Coates, head of Megaworld Lifestyle Malls.
Megaworld is continuing the thermal scanning and foot bath routine at all entrances. Mall employees and store personnel will still be required to wear face masks at all times. Social distancing of three feet apart within mall premises and when queuing at concierge, ATMs, cashiers and comfort rooms is strictly implemented.
While alcohol and hand sanitizers are available, guests are encouraged to use cashless transactions. Only guests ages 21 to 59 will be allowed in the malls; IDs are required upon entry.
Coates said elevator and parking card push buttons are sanitized every 30 minutes; parking cards are sanitized before deployment at the card dispenser. A sanitation squad is deployed at all times to deep-clean door handles, handrails, comfort rooms and common areas. Escalator handrails are disinfected using UV light, while AC is set at 26ºC.
Dine-in is not allowed, but pick-up counters and drive-through stations are in place for takeout orders and deliveries.
“As a matter of protocol, all doors will be kept normally open to avoid manual opening and limit contacts. These open doors will ensure infusion of more fresh air inside the enclosed mall space as a result of continuous operation of smoke evacuation blowers of the common area,” Coates said.
UVc AHU (Air Handling Unites) air sterilizers and air plasma ionizers are added to the system, Coates said. This is on top of the existing air filters of centralized AHUs the malls have now.
The reopened Gokongwei-led Robinsons Malls are also following the protocols of the IATF.
Safety measures are in place to “somehow ease people’s worries about the public health situation by applying a holistic approach in combating the spread of the virus within its malls,” said Robinsons Malls senior vice president and general manager Arlene Magtibay in a statement.
Roving mall security guards will ensure the implementation of social distancing. Signages, posters and foot markers are set up in key areas to remind customers of proper queuing and safe spacing.
“A sanitation team was created to ensure every nook and cranny is sanitized,” Magtibay said. Disinfection will be done every hour.
Robinsons Malls also collaborated with delivery service platforms such as MyKuya and Mober, to guarantee consumers a seamless virtual shopping experience while staying safe in their homes.
“We understand that not everyone is comfortable with leaving the sanctuary of their homes. Our delivery service platforms are readily available to them,” Magtibay said.